3rd Quarter in Books

Evenings have been cold, dark and dreary lately in our part of the world, good for nothing except curling up under a blanket with a cup of something warm to drink and a book to read. Earlier this month, I hit my reading target for the year ahead of schedule and thought I’d share a round up of some of the books I read between July and September.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I’ll preface this review by saying that I loved Practical Magic, it was one of my favourite books last year, and at the end I wanted to know more about the aunts that raised Sally and Gillian, and more about their parents, which is exactly what The Rules of Magic is about. Unfortunately, this had a very different mood and atmosphere from Practical Magic, and I found it quite heavy as the aunts, Franny and Jet, and their brother, Vincent, try to navigate the family curse that love leads to ruin against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. I was disappointed by this prequel which lacked the charm and suspense of Practical Magic.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Set on board a steamboat cruising the Nile, this murder mystery seems like a simple crime of passion with the jilted ex-lover murdering the rich, beautiful and charming rival who stole her man, except that the most obvious suspect also has the most solid alibi and the victim had other enemies among the passengers. One by one the murderer picks off the witnesses before they can expose them, but the retired Detective Hercule Poirot is there to investigate. I thoroughly enjoyed this clever mystery that kept me guessing until the end with plenty of clues and misdirection.

This Poison Heart by Kaylynn Bayron

A young adult fantasy about a girl with the ability to grow plants and a natural immunity to almost all poisons finds herself caught up in a family legacy to prevent a very rare plant falling into the hands of people who would use it for their own nefarious purposes. This Poison Heart was like a cross between The Secret Garden and Poison Ivy and a dollop of Greek mythology thrown in too, I enjoyed the mystery but found it too slow paced and I probably won’t read the sequel.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer is very likely to be one of my Top 10 favourite reads this year, and I read the sequel as soon as it came out to find out if Tarisai succeeded in annointing her own council as the first Empress Raybearer and survived her journey through the underworld to end the sacrifice of hundreds of children to appease the spirits who threaten to bring war, disease and chaos to their lands if they don’t. I found Redemptor a little bit too meandering in places and I missed some of the supporting characters from Raybearer who drop in and out of the sequel, although I enjoyed getting to know a few new characters too. Tarisai’s journey through the underworld was the highlight of the story, a true physical, mental and spiritual challenge with sacrifices and betrayals that me gripped up to the very satisfying conclusion.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown since watching her TED talk on shame several years ago, and have been working my way through her books ever since. Daring Greatly is a book about how to recognise and overcome shame, and practice vulnerability in different spheres of our lives in order to cultivate connection, creativity and integrity. I didn’t think this is one of her best works, and it didn’t have the profound effect on me that I Thought It Was Just Me or Rising Strong did but I did appreciate the blend of research and personal experience, and how Brene practises and models vulnerability, courage and empathy for her children and in her family were the highlights for me.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn is the most charming and captivating story about a young woman, Maia, who pretends to be her brother in order to become the Emperor’s new tailor – a role forbidden to women. At court, Maia finds herself drawn into the political intrigues between the young Emperor, the Lord Enchanter and the Warlord’s daughter reluctantly betrothed to the Emperor in order to restore peace between the North and South following the Five Winters War. With the gift of her grandmother’s enchanted scissors, Maia embarks on the Warlord’s daughter’s seemingly impossible challenge to create three wedding dresses made from the laughter of the Sun, the tears of the Moon and the blood of the Stars. I simply adored this story that is as much a romance as a coming-of-age quest, though unfortunately I didn’t find the sequel, Unravel the Dusk, as charming or gripping.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games is a fast paced and gripping YA mystery about a seemingly ordinary girl, Avery, grieving her mum and trying to get the money and grades to get into a good college whose life is turned upside down when Tobias Hawthorne – a billionaire she’s never met – disowns his entire family and leaves his fortune and estate to her instead. This reminded me of Knives Out and Rebecca as Avery tries to solve the mystery of why Tobias Hawthorne chose her and finds herself caught up in the scheming Hawthorne family, working with and against Tobias’ four charming and clever grandsons to solve an elaborate treasure hunt with a few assassination attempts along the way. The only thing that let this story down for me was the fairly predictable love triangle between Avery and two of the Hawthorne brothers, but this was a fun mystery with plenty of suspense and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy.

Have a lovely week. X

Three Bookish Things Tag

I don’t normally do these types of posts but I had fun thinking up the answers for this one, thanks to Hundreds & Thousands of Books for nominating me. I can’t find a comprehensive list of rules or the original prompt creator so I’ll just press on. Feel free to have a go!

Three Bookish Goals for 2021:

Read 50 Books (22/50)

Read at least 5 Non-Fiction books (1/5)

Read What I Own (Failing miserably at this one, my TBR is already an avalanche risk, and I keep adding to it)

Three Favourite Authors:

Leigh Bardugo

Emily Bronte

Daphne du Maurier

Three Characters I Love:

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom) – I love that Inej is a survivor who overcomes some really traumatic experiences and finds a new purpose. I also love that she expects her love interest to try to overcome his own traumas if he wants to be with her, and she’s willing to walk away rather than settle.

Father Chains (the Gentleman Bastards series) – this mysterious figure adopts orphans (including Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen) in order to educate and train them into becoming the most cunning con artists, he also appears to know everyone worth knowing and everyone from the nobility to criminals respects him. Father Chains is only shown in flashbacks in the series, but I’d love to read more about him.

Irene Winters (The Invisible Library series) – Irene is such a lovable and relatable heroine, a member of a Secret Society of Librarians travelling around alternate worlds collecting rare books, she’s resourceful, brave, principled and self-deprecating.

Three Weirdest Things I’ve Used for Bookmarks:

Receipts, tickets and a pressed leaf.

Three Favourite Covers:

Three Titles I’ve Watched But Not Read:

The Lord of the Rings

The Umbrella Academy

The Never Ending Story (this was my favourite film as a child and it’s a short book so I really don’t have any excuses)

Three Series I’ve Binged:

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Hunger Games

Shadow and Bone

Three Unpopular Bookish Opinions:

It might be because I worked in a bookshop for years but rainbow shelves, and worse, books with the spines hidden and pages facing out, make my fingers itch, sure it looks good but how on Earth do you find anything?!

I’m a paperback reader and while I appreciate the aesthetic value of a special edition hardback, it really annoys me that hardbacks and ebooks are usually released at the same time but the paperback comes out a year later, grrr.

I’m put off by long-running series. There are obviously exceptions, but I much prefer a concise little trilogy, duology or even a standalone novel to a series that goes on and on. I think stories should leave you wanting more, not wondering if the author will finish the series before they die. ☠️

Three Nominations:

Laura at Freedom and Flour

Jess at Beyond the Front Cover

Nicole at Nicole’s Book Thoughts

Have a lovely weekend! X

First Quarter of 2021 in Books

Spending winter under lockdown has helped get my reading off to a great start, and I’ve somehow powered through 19 books in the first three months of 2021, and thought I’d share a little round-up of short reviews here.

The House with the Chicken Legs and The Castle of Tangled Magic by Sophie Anderson

Twelve year old Marinka lives in a house with chicken legs along with her grandmother, Baba Yaga, a Guardian who guides spirits of the dead through the gate from our world to the Afterlife. Marinka is training to become a Guardian, but she feels lonely and trapped, longing to choose her own destiny. I adored this original and poignant story about growing up, full of big themes and big emotions from grief, regret and loneliness to family, friendship and home.

I was disappointed by the spiritual sequel which follows Olia as she tries to save her beloved home from tangled magic leaking out from another world. It’s a fairly straightforward hero quest, but I felt most obstacles were too easily overcome, and I was disappointed that Marinka’s adventures ended when marriage and motherhood began, though I did like some of the supporting characters, Cascadia and the spirit of the Castle, Feliks.

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

My first non-fiction read of the year was a re-read of this collection of short essays, anecdotes and poems on a variety of topics from charity and philanthropy, gratitude, travel, parents and children, faith and religion to rape, grief, racism and segregation. It’s a short but thought-provoking and inspiring read.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

The narrative switches between Poirot, the victim’s father, husband and lover, as well as another passenger on the train, Katherine Grey, who is drawn into the murder investigation and the theft of the victim’s rubies. The clues are carefully placed, there’s some clever misdirection and even a bit of romance, and I was pleased I solved part of the mystery before Poirot’s reveal at the end.

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

In the 6th instalment of The Invisible Library series, the mysterious, Mr Nemo, hires Irene and a team consisting of thief, thug, gambler, hacker and getaway driver to steal a painting with significance far greater than its value. I love a good heist, but it was after the theft when the team starts double crossing each other that things really start getting interesting and the suspense ratcheted up when Irene has to choose between saving one world she cares about and preventing a war that could destroy countless other worlds.

The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis

The Bronte sisters are investigating the mystery of a child’s bones interred in the wall of a local landowner’s home. I found this slower paced and lacking the steady stream of clues, suspects and suspicious circumstances that made The Vanished Bride so riveting. However, the siblings’ interpersonal dynamics are almost as fascinating as the mystery they’re trying to solve, and there’s a good mix of humour, eerie and thrilling moments in this sequel.

City of Ghosts and Tunnel of Bones by V.E. Schwab

Twelve year old Cassidy Blake is the daughter of professional ghost hunters recording a TV show about the world’s most haunted cities, unbeknownst to her parents, however, is the fact that following her own near-death experience, Cassidy has the ability to see ghosts, including her “corporeally challenged” best friend, Jacob. City of Ghosts is set in Edinburgh and I loved seeing somewhere familiar from a different perspective.

The sequel takes place in Paris, where Cassidy has drawn the attention of a poltergeist whose behaviour quickly turns from mischievous to malevolent. Cassidy and Jacob’s friendship is the emotional touchstone of the story, and I really enjoyed learning more about Jacob’s life and death in this spooky and moving follow-up.

Take care, and have a lovely week. X

2020 in Books

A combination of sleep deprivation from caring for a newborn and too much time spent watching news of the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and the US Election unfold meant whole weeks passed with me barely managing to read a single page. Having said that, I was much less concerned with quantity than quality in 2020, and although I only managed to read 28 books (and shared 24 reviews with a little backlog still to post), I’ve loved so many of them and discovered some new favourite books and writers. The vast majority were fiction, and almost half of those were fantasy, though magical realism was also well represented. I also read my first mystery novel, and that’s a genre I plan to explore this year.

I enjoyed so many of the books that I read in 2020 that it’s genuinely hard to pick my top five, but Crooked Kingdom, The Vanished Bride, The Lollipop Shoes, The Night Circus (a re-read) and A Conjuring of Light were the highlights.

On the flipside, I’m of the opinion that there are too many books in the world to force myself to read something I’m not enjoying. I have a 100 page rule but after that I give myself permission to give up without feeling guilty, and there were three books that I didn’t finish in 2020. I had high hopes of a Latin-American inspired fantasy with Nocturna, but I found it too derivitive of the Shades of Magic trilogy and lacking in the Latinx mythology and setting I was looking for, I gave up on page 154 of 471. I loved the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, but I’ve been underwhelmed by the rest of the trilogy and the third book just didn’t hold my interest so I gave up on page 369 of 724. The Architect’s Apprentice was a bit different from the stories I normally read, and I left it on page 195 of 452 because I found it too slow-paced and couldn’t sympathise with the protagonist.

I’ve set myself a reading challenge but beyond the numbers I’d like to read at least five non-fiction books, and I’m hoping to finish or catch-up on a few series that I’ve started (The Invisible Library series, The Daevabad trilogy, The Bronte Mysteries and the Broken Earth Trilogy to name a few) before starting any more. I never stick to book-buying bans but would like to prioritise reading what I already own, though there are a few books that I’m eagerly anticipating coming out in paperback that I know I won’t be able to resist; there are also a few old favourites I’d like to re-read, something I typically don’t do because there are so many new books to read.

I’d love to know what your favourite reads of 2020 were, and have you set any reading goals for 2021? Take care, and have a lovely week. X